Beaumont ISD denies cosmetology program was canceled over gay student

Beaumont school officials are denying allegations that a principal canceled a cosmetology program because a gay student enrolled.

Cequada Clark, a teacher in the Beaumont ISD cosmetology program, alleges that Principal Thomas Campbell-Amons expressed his dislike for gay students at an event in April, and after meeting a student he thought was gay last week, he pulled the plug on the program.

Clark said she feared for her job but wanted the truth to be told about the principal discriminating against the student and hurting other people in the program, including single moms who want to earn their cosmetology licenses.

Beaumont ISD spokesman Ron Reynolds told Instant Tea on Tuesday that “misinformation” was given in various media reports and that the principal no longer wanted adults to attend classes because of funding. Reynolds said classes were never canceled but adult students were no longer allowed to attend.

Because only two adults were in the class last week, Reynolds said the cost of the adults, who pay to attend but often receive assistance, was too much and they would be better suited if their class fell under continuing education. Adults, including 22-year-old Kwmane Gray, whom Amons thought was gay, can enroll in the continuing education cosmetology class in October, but Reynolds said at least 10 students must enroll for the class to take place.

As for the action in response to Gray’s perceived sexuality, Reynolds said the principal “denied those allegations” and that the decision to separate students and adults was based solely on funding.

A Change.org petition has been created calling for Campbell-Amons to be removed as principal, for the program to be reinstated, and for Clark to be returned to her position. However, Reynolds said Clark is still employed with the district as a substitute teacher. So far, 1,124 people have signed the petition.

“We demand documentation that Principal Amons followed standard BISD protocol in cancelling the course to begin with and that if such documentation doesn’t exist, he be removed from his position, that the program be reinstated, that Cequada Clark be returned to her teaching position and that a formal apology be issued to Kwmane Gray from the school district,” the petition reads in part.

The district’s official statement is below.

“Due to budget restraints and no Beaumont ISD cosmetology graduates registering for the class, the Taylor Career Center is no longer offering an extended courtesy evening cosmetology class for adults. According to Thom Campbell-Amons, principal at Taylor, ‘The lack of funding has halted the continuation of the courtesy program that was developed to allow BISD high school graduates and other adults to earned state required cosmetology hours in order to become licensed practitioners.’

“Campbell-Amons reiterated that the high school cosmetology program at Taylor still exists, however, Taylor Career Center can no longer afford to fund the part of the program that was serving non-BISD cosmetology program graduates.”

—  Anna Waugh

Beaumont principal ends cosmetology program after gay student enrolls

The Adult Cosmetology class at Beaumont Independent School District’s Taylor Career and Technology Center will have its final class today after its principal met a student he thought was gay.

Instructor Cequada Clark told Southeast Texas’ The Examiner that Principal Thomas Amons voiced his contempt for gays and did not want to see “flamboyantly gay guys” in the BISD program at an event in April.

“I couldn’t believe it then; I kind of thought he was just venting at that time,” Clark said.

But after 22-year-old Kwmane Gray tried to enroll in the program, Amons pulled the plug after meeting him briefly during the first class on Monday.

“As soon as we got a student that (Amons) thought was gay, that was the end. He saw (Gray) come into the class, and then he came to get me out of there,” Clark said.

Clark said she was told to tell Gray he wasn’t welcome, but she refused. She told the paper she only came forward after the decision to end the class despite fear of being fired because she had “to stand up for what’s right.”

BISD’s legal counsel told Amons he couldn’t prevent anyone from enrolling in the program but he did have the power to end the program, which has been around for more than a decade. So, he ended it.

Gray has spent the last three years at Lamar University and wanted to enter the program to save money and earn his cosmetology license before finishing college to become a nurse.

“This is like a hate crime,” Gray told The Examiner. “He never even talked to me. He just judged me. I don’t know and I don’t care (why); I just don’t want him to be over any other kids and maybe do that to them, too. He can cause a lot of trouble for students like that.”

—  Anna Waugh

Out on the field

Scott Bloom was closeted during his high school wrestling career, but he found 4 brave gay student athletes to come out for his new documentary

MARATHON MEN | Getting teen athletes and their families to feel comfortable coming out on film was a challenge for documentarian Scott Bloom.

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.

His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.

The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.

He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”

The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.

He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.

When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”

He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”

Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.

Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)

Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.

It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”

Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.

But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”

He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”

Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.

Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.

The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”

Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”

And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.

Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATE: Baylor U. denies charter for gay group, says forums should be ‘professionally facilitated’

Earlier today we told you about the new LGBT student group at Baylor University, called the Sexual Identity Forum. Shortly after our post went up, the group reported on its website that its charter has been denied by the school:

As of 1:53pm on March 2nd, 2011, we have been denied a charter. Student activities thinks that open forum discussion on sensitive topics such as those involving gender and sexuality are better handled by “professionally facilitated” organizations.

They don’t seem to realize that the frequency with which ”professionally facilitated” organizations host open forums is far less than the frequency with which students come up with questions about gender and sexuality or with which relevant politics develop. We are in the process of appealing this decision to Dr. Kevin Jackson.

Thank you for sticking with us through all of this–we won’t give up without a fight (and even then we won’t give up)! Remember, we are still meeting unofficially in the SUB Den on Thursday evenings, 8:30pm, without a charter.

 

—  John Wright

Rutgers to offer co-ed dorms in response to gay student Tyler Clementi’s suicide

Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — New Jersey’s flagship state university has decided to allow male and female students to share rooms in three dorms in an effort to make the campus more inclusive for gay students after a highly publicized suicide last year.

Starting this fall, all students — whether gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — can choose either male or female roommates under the pilot program. Men and women will share bathrooms.

A similar, but smaller, pilot program is being launched at the Newark campus.

A number of other schools, including the University of Maryland, New York’s Columbia University and Washington’s George Washington University, offer similar housing options, according to the National Student Genderblind Campaign.

The organization is pressing for more programs like them, saying they’re a way for students to have roommates they’re comfortable with.

Rutgers got wide attention last year after freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. Authorities say that days before, his roommate in a dorm used a webcam to capture Clementi during an intimate encounter with another man.

The roommate and a third freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy in the case. Their lawyers say they’re not guilty of any crimes.

Gay student groups have pushed for Rutgers to be friendlier to gay, lesbian and transgender students — including by offering gender-neutral housing — since Clementi’s death.

—  John Wright

Trial in gay teen Lawrence King’s murder delayed

Associated Press

VENTURA, Calif. — A Ventura County judge has delayed the murder trial of a teenager charged with the classroom shooting death of a 15-year-old gay student.

Brandon McInerney’s trial had been tentatively set for March 15. The 16-year-old defendant, who is being tried as an adult, is charged with the Feb. 12, 2008, shooting death of Larry King at E.O. Green School in Oxnard.

The Ventura County Star says Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell on Monday set an April 4 hearing to determine if attorneys will be ready for trial on May 2. Defense lawyers want more information, including the release of the victim’s juvenile records.

McInerney is also charged with a hate crime because he allegedly had adopted white supremacist views and King professed to be gay. A police gang expert testified in a 2009 preliminary hearing that white supremacists consider gays enemies of the white race.

—  John Wright

Spokesman says DISD too busy with budget cuts to discuss trangender homecoming issue

A rally in support of Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School in October. Since then we haven’t heard much from DISD, or the LGBT community, about trying to come up with a policy that would avoid such controversies in the future.

Here’s the reply we received late Monday from DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, after we inquired about whether district officials have discussed a possible policy change related to gender and homecoming elections in response to last year’s controversy at North Dallas High School:

“I don’t know if there have been additional discussions regarding that particular issue. Most of our time right now is devoted to paying attention to what is taking place in Austin and planning for next year’s budget accordingly. A $253 million budget deficit would wipe out a lot of things in our school district. If I hear of something, I’ll let you know.”

We certainly sympathize with Dahlander and other DISD officials as they try to deal with the impending budget crisis, but we also hope his statement indicates that the district is open to taking up the transgender homecoming issue as soon as possible. After all, it’s been almost five months since transgender girl Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at NDHS. The district should be commended for, in the meantime, passing a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that is the first of its kind in the state. But this doesn’t mean the district’s work — or the LGBT community’s work — is done. For one thing, we need to ensure that the anti-bullying policy is properly implemented and enforced. And for another, while the anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression, the district’s employment nondiscrimination policy does not. In other words, it’s now against DISD policy for a student to bully another student for being transgender, but it’s not against DISD policy for the district to fire a teacher for being transgender. And, apparently, it isn’t against DISD policy for an administrator to discriminate against a student for being transgender, as in the case of Andy Moreno. On Tuesday night I sat in a Stonewall Democrats meeting and listened to a gay student talk about the resistance he’s faced from administrators in trying to establish a GSA at Woodrow Wilson High School. So while the budget situation is critical, let’s also remember that for some LGBTQA youth, the issues we’re raising could be a matter of life and death.

—  John Wright

Lesbian students enter to cheers at Minn. school

CHRIS WILLIAMS | Associated Press

CHAMPLIN, Minn. — Two lesbian high school students who fought for the right to walk together as part of a royalty court made their entrances Monday, Jan. 31 to the cheers of hundreds of classmates.

Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton wore matching black suits with pink ties and held hands as they entered the Snow Days Pep Fest at Champlin Park High School in Minneapolis’ northwest suburbs.

The reaction came as a relief to the couple and school administrators. The district has been stung by criticism of its policies toward homosexuality and the alleged bullying of a gay student who killed himself.

“It felt amazing,” said Shelton, adding that she was too nervous to notice dozens rise to give her a standing ovation as she walked in with Lindstrom. “I think we were too focused on getting to the stage.”

If there were any boos, they were drowned about by supporters. “I feel so much better,” Lindstrom said while surrounded by friends after the rally.

Sarah’s mother, Shannon Lindstrom, camera in hand, joined the other mothers of children in the royalty court after the rally.

“They had a lot of courage,” she said Shelton and her daughter. “Look how far we’ve come.”

Students voted onto the royalty court traditionally enter the assembly in boy-girl pairs. After Lindstrom and Shelton, both 18, were elected, school officials last week announced a change in procedure: court members would walk in individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.

School officials said they merely wanted to prevent the two from being teased. But on Friday, two human rights groups sued on their behalf.

On Saturday, in federally mediated talks, school officials relented. The two sides agreed that members of the royalty court would be escorted by anyone meaningful to them, regardless of gender or age.

“This is a new chapter for the district,” said Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local assistance from the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre and Benson.

Young women in evening gowns and young men in dark suits walked through a makeshift arch and to the stage during the Monday afternoon pep rally complete with cheerleaders, dance teams and the school band. So did two young women in suits, and the crowd cheered for each one.

“They did great,” said Principal Mike George. “I’m proud of our students.”

Several of the students in the crowd didn’t understand what all the fuss over the lesbian couple.

“Some people are against it, but they don’t care if they walk down a stupid runway,” said Maggie Hesaliman, 14.

Melissa Biellefe, 16, said, “We’re a pretty respectful school. Our rule is just let people be who they are.”

Champlin Park is part of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s largest, which has been in the spotlight in the past year for its handling of issues involving gay and lesbian students.

It has been in the crossfire for its policy of “neutrality” in classroom discussions of homosexuality. It was reached in 2009 as a way to balance the demands of liberal and conservative families, but neither side has been completely happy with it.

The issues flared again last year after a gay student, Justin Aaberg, killed himself. His mother has said she heard too late from Justin’s friends that he had been harassed.

Aaberg was one of six students who committed suicide in the district since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, and advocacy groups have linked some of the other deaths to the bullying of gay students.

However, the district said last month its own investigation did not find evidence that bullying contributed to the students’ deaths.

—  John Wright

Teen gay dream

GLEEK HERO   |  In just four episodes, Criss has become a popular gay on ‘Glee.’ (Photo by Robert Hart)

Darren Criss, the breakout heartthrob from ‘Glee,’ isn’t gay or a teen, but welcomes more romance for Blaine

MARK LOWRY  |  Special Contributor
mark@theaterjones.com

Aside from the hot pink sunglasses, and the assistant who occasionally makes sure that his natural curls fall just so on his forehead, Darren Criss doesn’t come across as the young actor whose star is on a rocket’s upward path.

A new, popular actor on the hit Fox show Glee, Criss possesses an articulate intelligence and level-headedness that belies his age (he turns 24 in under a month). On the show, Criss plays Dalton Academy gay student Blaine, the teenage dream with the glassy brown eyes and plush eyebrows that make Kurt (Chris Colfer) — not to mention the rest of gay America — swoon.

Criss was in North Texas last weekend at the Fort Worth auditions for The Glee Project, a reality show that will debut on Oxygen in June where 12 contestants will vie for a role on Glee. The winner is guaranteed multiple episodes next season. Whether this new character (which hasn’t been written yet, so it’s open to gender and type) becomes a recurring character depends on his or her popularity with audiences.

The winner would be lucky to repeat the feat accomplished by Criss, who in a scant four episodes has already proven so popular that he’s been confirmed as a series regular for the rest of Seasons 2 and 3. The real question that the gay fans of the show — and we hear there are a few — are asking: Will the Kurt/Blaine friendship develop into something more?

“I’m just as curious as everybody else,” Criss says. “Obviously the potential is there. As much as all of us want to see that happen immediately, I think the most important thing to convey between the two of them is that of a support system. It’s really important to show young people especially that there’s a person to confide in, and that friendship is possible. If that does evolve into a romantic relationship, then awesome. But let’s hope that it’s warranted, and real. And there’s no greater way to portray a love story than to prolong it as long as possible.”

Criss knows a thing or two about fictional love stories. The San Francisco native has been doing theater for much of his short life. In high school and as a student at the University of Michigan, he appeared in musicals like the “lost Sondheim” show Do I Hear a Waltz and the Rodgers and Hart classic Babes in Arms.

“I’m a big Rodgers and Hart fan. For my audition for Blaine, I sang ‘Where or When’ [from Babes],” he says. “I was a big musical theater rat. I was just a fanboy who got lucky.”

During college, Criss became a member of the UM alumni theater company Team Starkid, playing Harry Potter in the spoof A Very Potter Musical and writing songs for the original musical Me and My Dick (the recording is available on iTunes). He also released a solo EP called Human, showing off his smooth tenor. (There’s a Facebook group called “I liked Darren Criss before he was on Glee.”)

He landed a few TV roles (Cold Case, the short-lived series Eastwick), but it was with Glee that he became an instant hit singing lead in an all-male a capella version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” The opportunity is something that the actor, who is straight, doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s incredibly important to me,” he says. “As an actor, you’re always worried that you’re going to be stuck doing ancillary things, like the boyfriend or the cop or the football coach or something. You just hope for something that you feel has some kind of significance. This would be one of those things that has a great amount of value to me personally and, I think, to a greater community.”

As for his rising fame, he’s cautious to use the word “celebrity”(although the screaming fans in Fort Worth on Saturday would argue otherwise). But he’s preparing himself for it.

“Everybody wants to know who you are, which is a very unfair position to be in because all of us are trying to figure that out on a consistent basis,” he says. “So it really forces you to evaluate and analyze yourself. It’s really forced me into really trying to solidify myself because if people are paying attention, it’s important to step up to the plate and make sure that [I’m] representing something positive.”

Millions of Gleeks can’t be wrong.

New episodes of Glee resume with a special Super Bowl Sunday episode.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright

DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright